ICT Spring - 2022

Australian Government Announces Development of Sovereign Launch Technologies

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Australian Government will fund the development of a rocket engine as part of the creation of a sovereign launch capability.

Last week, it announced government support for Australian based research into rocket propulsion technology and suggested that launching satellites could soon become a reality in Australia.

The Responsive Access to Space project has attracted in excess of AUS$10 million of cash and in-kind contributions from industry and university stakeholders. Its research collaboration is led by DefendTex Pty Ltd, and includes RMIT University, University of Sydney, University of South Australia, Universitat de Bundeswehr, Defence Science and Technology Group, and Innosync Pty Ltd.

This project aims to develop a flight-ready Rotating Detonation Engine by applying new thermal management techniques and advanced control of inlet, injection and fuel mixing processes. This would create the opportunity for sovereign space launch capability, according to government leaders. It will receive almost $3 million under the fifth round of the Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-P) programme.

Australia’s Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation, the Hon Zed Seselja, MP, said the investment in this research was another indicator of the government’s commitment to fostering innovation and supporting science and research in Australia. “The CRC Program is at the heart of the Government’s commitment to supporting innovation, and industry-research collaboration in Australia” Seselja said. ‘The research outcomes for the Responsive Access to Space Project have the potential to give Australia access to an efficient and cost effective Low Earth Orbit Launch Capability, presenting the opportunity for satellites to be launched from Australia.”

Michelle Gilmour of Singaporean-Australian New Space satellite launch company Gilmour Space Technologies – a prominent satellite launch company in Queensland, Australia – welcomed the Australian Government announcement, saying that “it sounds like interesting new research on a different launch technology, and we welcome any increased focus on sovereign launch capability in Australia.”

Photograph of the Gilmour Space Technologies static fire hybrid rocket engine test, courtesy of Gilmour Space Technologies.

“We don’t see this project as a threat as we’re been working on our own hybrid launch technology for some time now, and are one of the few small launch companies globally that are at TRL 5 and above. When we first started our rocket program in 2015, the idea of launching from Australia seemed far-fetched to many. Three years later, I like to think that our continued and demonstrated progress has helped to change that mind-set,” Gilmour said in an email to SpaceWatch.Global. “The Australian Space Agency has also put forward a target of $12 billion in space revenues by 2030. Toward that end, our new space economy would need to be fuelled by many more space startups and SMEs in upstream industries like launch and satellite manufacturing.”

Minister for Jobs and Innovation, Senator Michaelia Cash, said the investment builds on the Coalition’s $41 million commitment over the next four years to kick-start the Australian Space Agency. “With the access to the global space economy that our Agency will facilitate, we could potentially triple the size of our current domestic industry – to around $12 billion by 2030 – and create up to 20,000 new jobs for Australians,” she said.

Senator for Victoria, Minister Mitch Fifield said government support for research in Victoria was good for jobs and Australia’s future space industry. “Seventy per cent of the Responsive Access to Space Project will be undertaken here in Victoria. We are investing in our local businesses, like DefendTex, to undertake globally competitive research, support local jobs, and retain high-level jobs here in Australia,” he said.

Michelle Gilmour of Gilmour Space Technologies pointed out that the technologies her company is developing “equate to responsive access to space.”

“Our core focus right now, however, is to provide low-cost commercial small satellite launches,” she added.


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